Kunstmuseum Basel I Gegenwart is screening two films by the US artist Kara Walker on the occasion of her exhibition A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be at the Kunstmuseum Basel I Neubau. Walker is one of the most highly regarded artists in the United States. During the mid-1990s, she became well known for her wall-sized cut-paper silhouettes. The artist creates provocative works that grapple with history, race relations, gender roles, sexuality, and violence. She implacably confronts deep-rooted conflicts and enduring social inequalities.

The two films being shown have grown out of the artist’s research into the US National Archives Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. This archive is an important source of information on African American history in the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War. Founded in 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau supported the social and legal integration of tens of thousands of former enslaved individuals into society. The war had led to the liberation of almost four million slaves as well as the destruction of cities, communities, and an economy dependent on cotton plantations in the southern US states. The Freedmen’s Bureau distributed groceries and clothing, as well as operating hospitals and temporary camps. It also helped reunite families, supported education, helped liberated individuals to legalize their marriages, provided them with work, monitored work contracts, represented them in legal situations, and settled liberated individuals on abandoned or seized land. The authority also documented incidents of violence and racial conflict.

Walker’s films recreate two of the incidents logged in the Freedmen’s Bureau records. Walker collaborated with the acclaimed musicians Jason and Alicia Moran on the soundtracks of both films. Alicia Hall Moran is a transdisciplinary mezzo-soprano who performs in opera, theater, and jazz, and is a frequent collaborator with artists. Jason Moran is a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, composer and performer.

In Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road (2009), Amanda Willis, a young Black girl, tells the story of how her family was attacked and robbed by a gang of white men who then kidnapped and raped her. Her father was shot dead and their home burned to the ground. The film is set in Springfield, a small town to the north of Nashville, Tennessee. The apparent peacefulness of an African American family transforms into a harrowing portrayal of death, rape, and arson.

The story of Lucy of Pulaski (2009) is based on a report of a violent clash between African American and white individuals that took place in 1868 in Pulaski, Tennessee. The detailed report examines the events that led up to a mob of eighteen white people encircling and killing or injuring eight African American individuals in the city. The story centres around Lucy Reynolds, an African American woman who was allegedly involved with the white man Calvin Lamberth – to the annoyance of Calvin Carter, an African American man. Both men were tradespeople and the dispute over the woman’s behaviour was merely a justification for the outbreak of violence, as Walker demonstrates in the film. The Pulaski riot demonstrates the brutal measures to which white people went to preserve their dominance in the city of Pulaski, in which the Ku Klux Klan had been founded in 1865, three years prior to this event.

Report on the events depicted in Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road: Link

Report on the events depicted in Lucy of Pulaski: Link

Both sourced from: National Archives Microfilm, State Record M999 Tennessee, Roll 34, Register of Outrages, Vol. 1